Owls, Oryx, and Ostriches.
For hours we drove into the broiled heart of the Namib Desert; the highway undulated; we left the cold weather front behind and pushed through a barrier of rising heat like a string bead curtain. The large truck windows were unpinned to let in some breeze. I broke out a Black Label, the best beer I had ever tasted.
We turned off a the paved road to a gravel road to a dirt road then to a two track at the gate of Drifters Desert Camp; I needed Googled Earth to point to where we were, I am sure one of the Millenniums had it on one of their digital devices. Time and place didn’t matter because suddenly cameras were all poised for the perfect shot of a magnificent male oryx browsing between the yellow Bushman grass that offered no nourishment to the animals.
Oryx thrive in Namibia’s desert veld.
The Desert Camp is surrounded by the Drifters 20,000 hectare private reserve which is surrounded by the larger Namibrand Nature Reserve. In the distance a small herd of oryx kicked up a dust cloud, the only way to detect them.
The Desert Camp was remote and removed, built beneath a spectacular boulder outcrop of rusty patina basalt stacked like bowling balls above the red dune fields that stretched out far away. The two Vikings, who were on a round-the-world megamoon honeymoon, had their tent instantly set up under the stick slat cabana shelters. When the British girls heard about scorpions in the area their tent went up in a flash. Jo was the consummate outdoorsman, sleeping under the stars in all conditions. He convinced me to sleep next to the fire, with some reluctance I must add, because Jo snores.
The remote and serene Drifters Desert Camp.
The awesomeness of the stark landscape under the open stars was beyond pleasure. The air was clear as if looking through a clean window pane with no civilization smudging up the atmosphere.
We took a day hike into the wilderness; the acuity of the eyes was sharper; ostriches ran like specters but they were so far and gone they didn’t seem to move at all in the short tawny grass.
Ostriches strut their stuff on the Drifters reserve.
The reserve had seen substantial rains over the last 20 years, but now the arid land rested in drought. On the nature walk Jo pointed out a massive weaverbird nest. The birds build solo homes in stream side trees, but this communal condo was built for desert warmth I theorized. Jo quickly organized an oryx dropping spitting contest. The antelope excrete grassy pellets that make perfect spitballs with no aftertaste. Maybe Jo has been out in the wilderness a little too long.
An exciting night game drive in the high desert.
As evening approached, Murray, the Desert Camp manager, showed up in an open game viewing wagon. We set out across the desert plain as the sun washed the hills as if shining through Indian amber alabaster. We immediately came across more oryx and I asked Jo if the ornate horned stag was on the menu. “Later,” he clipped. The desiccated oryx carcass we came upon was certainly out of the question as a dining opton.
An oryx’s fate in the desert sand.
We stopped for a sundowner of nuts and snacks and beer near a line of trees creating a vanishing point, they grew along an underground seep. If you dug in the sand like the San Bushmen water would flow. The sky was clear and turned cold as night pulled down the shades over the day.
A fire welcomes in
the cold desert.
With a spotting light we came across a skittish black backed jackal, his eyes popped out like a burglar caught on a surveillance video cam. In a tree a huge Great Eagle Owl rubbernecked, its eyes reflecting the light like opaque marbles. Someone spotted the rare aardwolf, a cross between an aardvark and canine. We were more than thrilled when the light picked out a small African Cat. The 4×4 kicked in its lower gears and we crawled over a dry pass with a steep ravine just a tire track away from a rumble. Suddenly we were back in camp. Siri hand’t gone on the night drive and she had set a welcoming campfire on our return.
“This Place Is Alriight,”
We spent two nights in the desert range. I could have stayed a while longer. Drifters has a great self-drive program for those who want longer stays and designed for smaller groups. The Drifters Desert Camp reserve also boasts a private lodge for these occasions. The Drifters Desert Lodge, on the same reserve as the camp, offers luxury a few notches above the camping scene, but still priced at a realistic low level. The Lodge offers game viewing with a ranger and comfortable accommodations with real beds. It is a strategic stopover between the sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the Fish River Canyon and Luderitz.
The Lodge offers six spacious, comfortably appointed, en-suite rooms and a large central lounge that serves also as the dining area. The natural stone structure is warm in winter and cool in summer. All rooms have a splendid west facing view over the Namib Desert. A terrace and clean and sparkling pool complete the room package. Meals are freshly prepared; eat on the terrace or dining area, depending on the weather.
The Desert Lodge is on the C14 road, about 100 km south of Sesriem and 200 km north of Aus, easily accessible by two wheel drive vehicles, but still off the tourist route. A Drifters package at the Desert Lodge includes meals, game drive, game walk, and accommodations.
Drifters bask in the morning sun at the Desert Camp.
After our languorous layover, a few hours driving in the desertveld was enjoyed as we came to the highest sand dunes in the world; Big Daddy was a pyramidal isosceles triangle showstopper of sand. The dune fields of Sossusvlei were colored a light orange. The sand had blown in from the coast after the Orange River dumped its load into the Atlantic and then waves washed it ashore grain by grain. Then winds blew it all inland in long piles and I expected Beau Gest or Lawrence of Arabia to appear riding camels out of the shimmer.
Sossusvlei sand dunes are the world’s highest . . .
. . . where nothing grows.
I wore Australian made Blundstone boots, crafted since the 1880s for desert miners prospecting in the Outback, but while hiking the sands the heat welled up as if I was a Polynesian firewalker. I am proud to say I was the first to arrive at the salt pans of a dead end seasonal intermittent river where the only thing growing, or should I state, not growing, were tree skeletons that looked like they had been cemented into place.
The Vikings were hot on my heels, but the other Millenniums wore thin soled sandals and could not take the heat. Jo, whose wind-blown hair resembled Ace Ventura’s, went barefoot, even when driving, so he hung back in the shade of the acacia trees too. I drank a gallon of water on the three kilometer round trip hike. Crack open those Black Labels please.
The Drifters Agoma River Camp had one big drawing card, outstanding showers in a huge stone rondoval, with a real bath tub. An agoma is a type of lizard. Solar power heated the bathing water but not the pool, and it was down to shorts and bathing suits in quick order. We lounged in the heat like agomas. The doors on the showers creaked like the opening scenes in the Henry Fonda movie, “Once Upon A Time In The West”.
Human agomas bask by the Agoma Camp pool.
The Vikings once again won the tent raising race. Jo was camping out and I did too, a ways away near a boma fence, because Jo snores.
A boma fence is suppose to protect us from jackals.
I asked Jo if oryx was on the dinner menu. “Later,” he clipped. We made a mistake by throwing the bones of the evening meal in the trash can between me and Jo and during the night the jackals made a racket rolling the can around and streaking off with the spoils, their tracks ran right past my bunk.
We noticed the day before a wild wart hog hobbling around camp, no doubt the recipient of a jackal raiding party. Then another wart hog with the same dilemma; I could have picked them both off with a sling shot.
“This Place Is Alriight.”
Heidi had picked up a bad case of sand fleas while camping at the Desert Camp and the mites suddenly made a red rash appearance. She tossed her blanket in the trash and froze her sleeping back in the onboard refrigerator, unknown to us all. Yeah, we were in the Namib outback.
After leaving the Agoma River Camp we hiked the river canyon of the Sesriem River, more of a dry ravine with a compacted trail, a place not to be stranded during a rare flash flood. It was hot, I slumped back into my seat after the walk, and the only thing reviving me was a Black Label and the Sugarman tapes blaring on an iPhone as we headed west to the coast.
Jo and Pippa drift into the Namib Desert.
At the quirky trading post of Solitaire, a proper name for the smallest town in Namibia, we stopped for taste treats at the superb German bakery called Moose MacGregor’s; at least there was a sense of humor around here. H m . . . blueberry crumbles, hot apple strudel, and real kick butt coffee. Surrounding the compound old rusted cars and trucks poked out of the cacti and brambles. I coerced Jo and Pip for a photo shoot in one of the wrecks, one of my favorite pictures of the trip. Before crossing the Tropic of Cancer wer took a group time elasped photo of us at the demarcation sign.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine. We head back to the coast, click the sign as the Drifters Adventure continues.